Politics and state

The defining feature of our times is that everything has become politics. Although the state is much more than politics, we are being led to assume that politics is all-pervasive, and that the state, in all its functions, must be an expression of politics! This is wrong, of course.

For three hundred years most societies, and all democracies, have given effect to some form of division of powers. In this fine logic, the legislative is the domain of politics, but the executive and the judiciary are not. Admittedly, the executive power has always had a brush-stroke of politics, of law-making, since legislative proposals often come from the executive, and since ministers issue decrees that are frequently based on political considerations. The political function of the executive is only residing at the highest levels, however, and hence it would be good to talk about the ‘legislating executive’ as distinct from the executive that, true to its name, only executes. We mix up the two things at our peril.

The ultimate safeguard for citizens reside not in their voices being heard in politics, but in their voices not being heard in the execution of legislation and in the judgments of courts. When President Trump talks about the ‘deep state’ it is because he wants the whole state to belong to him. Although he is the head of a civil service that must execute, not legislate, he wants the civil service to bend to his will even when it is its calling not to do so.

The politisation of the judiciary that also erodes the rights of citizens is not a Trump invention, to be fair. It was always there in the United States because of the discretion the Constitution is understood to grant the courts. It took flight under FDR, and became a hardball political game with the nomination by Ronald Reagan of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court, and the resulting rejection of the nomination. It is this politisation that is being perfected by President Trump and Mitch McConnell. Candidates for the judiciary are selected purely on their readiness to give effect to the political will of their patrons.

Those who do not fear this politisation of all state functions, those who do not recognise that the state brings immense benefits exactly because it is not always a knee-jerk expression of the politics of the day, are helping reopen the floodgates for autocracy and inhumanity. It should be obvious that the rule of law is a good of the highest order, and that the elimination of checks and balances is the path to perdition, to ‘might makes right’. Creating law is politics, yes, respect of law is not. Upholding the law is not a question of deep state, it is a question of state. May we not forget!

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